E P I L O G U E
The earth is warming rapidly, and climate change effects are spreading faster than most of us realize.
For thousands of years, human civilization has flourished on a hospitable Earth, but that hospitality is
waning. Everyone in every nation, and the entire natural world, will be affected.
Fossil fuels, the very power that brought civilization to this point of progress and peril, are responsible
for this global change. What comes next could be profoundly negative, rendering hollow the promises
of life, human rights, and peace that we hold out to our children and the rest of the world.
We already have the tools to begin changing our energy sources and avoiding waste. Many are now
in use; we must do much more. The money, technology, and skills exist in abundance, but we have yet
to muster the needed will. Changes must be made at every level of personal life— communal, commercial,
national, and international. What's called for is nothing short of a transformation of the world.
Heroes of our new world will emerge based on their contribution to keeping the Earth from getting
too hot. They will ignore the usual rules about which nation is "developed" and which is "developing"
and will look strongly at greenhouse emissions. They will realize that the prosperity of rich but heavily polluting
nations is no more threatened by change, proportionally, than is that of a country with lower emissions
but deep poverty and few financial reserves. The new leaders will know that protecting income,
profits, and market share by avoiding action on climate shortsightedly dismisses the possibilities both
for disaster and for profitable change. And they will be willing to admit and accept the tremendous
diffculty of this transformation.
Let me state the goal clearly: No policy should be promulgated, no program initiated, no alliance
sealed, no purchase made, no machine designed or built, no land use permitted, no product introduced,
no law passed, no politician elected unless the action is a step forward to reduction and reversal of the
effect of greenhouse gases.
Creating energy-conscious urban and industrial infrastructure must begin today, because poor
choices will pollute far into the future. No more coal-powered plants until we've tapped every efficiency
and renewable energy source in the area. Plants that are built must employ the most effective emissions reduction
technology now available and be compatible with future CO2 sequestration equipment.
The role for national and international policy is broad. It includes
• leveling the tax/subsidy playing field for all technologies and promoting those that are most energy efficient.
• strengthening research and energy reduction programs and expanding them toward renewables.
• implementing cap-and-trade plans for industrial greenhouse gases.
• facilitating the large-scale adoption of low-carbon technologies, from lightbulbs to industrial processes.
• initiating education programs and open communication with scientists
• increasing funds for Earth observation, climate science, and engineering for emissions reductions.
Except for the first item, these measures must also be undertaken by corporations and well endowed
charities, without waiting for a change in public policy.
Although the price may appear steep, the damages that human-made climate disruption will otherwise
inflict on cities, infrastructure, health, and human life would be far more costly. By contrast, hundreds
of millions of dollars may be saved by increasing the efficiency of energy production and use and
by reducing waste in the life cycle of goods and buildings. Indeed, this is the place to begin. It is much
faster and cheaper to use less energy than to buy it or to reengineer its source.
Creating a safer, cleaner—and cooler—world. This is the direction for change.
The world's nations will recognize in global warming a common danger to their people, their cultures, and the Earth
that supports them all. The United States, the European Union, China, India, Russia, Japan, Canada,
and the rest of the industrialized world must work in concert with the many smaller countries, provinces,
states, cities, and corporations already showing the way. International political and economic relationships
will shift to match new alliances and to reflect new regional cooperation. Coalitions of businesses, environmental
and social action groups, interfaith groups, international aid groups, local and state governments, foundations,
investment groups, and new associations of citizens will organize to address specific climate-related needs that have become
obvious all over the world.
With all these positive changes, air and water pollution, smog, smoke, dust, and their detrimental
health effects will be greatly reduced. The natural processes and resources that runaway emissions and
rising temperatures threaten to disrupt will change less abruptly and will remain healthy and able to
support the Earth's population. Many millions of people will enjoy healthier lives.
Is this science fiction? Utopia? Utopia means "no place," an imaginary perfection. As James Gustave
Speth wrote in Red Sky at Morning, "Contrary to the conventional perspective, it is business as
usual that is utopian, whereas creating a new consciousness is a pragmatic necessity." The point is, the
tools and knowledge we need to bring us a better, cooler, more humane planet are at hand right now.
Our heath, security, and well-being depend on our using them.
Earth Under Fire, page 213. Published 2007; updated 2009, 2011